Professor emeritus Robert Dionne, who taught health sciences for 34 years, passed away February 11. He was 84.
Born April 23, 1935, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, he graduated from high school and served for four years in the US Air Force as a missile communications specialist in the United States and Europe. It was during this time Dionne became determined to further his education. Following stints as a psychiatric technician, a bartender, a ski instructor, and regional director for the American National Red Cross, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington State College in 1961 and completed a master’s degree in health education at the University of Oregon in 1969.
Soon after, he moved to Chico with his wife, Jan, and their three young daughters. He joined the faculty at Chico State’s newly formed Department of Health Sciences, where he would start his academic career while pursuing his EdD in health counseling as a young assistant professor.
“To his family, friends, colleagues, and former students, Bob was known as an open, honest, supportive, and gentle man,” said his former student Cindy Paxton (Health Science, ’73), adding that meeting Dionne in 1969 “literally changed my life.”
She not only benefited from his mentorship in cultivating her professional presentation and project management skills, which supported Paxton as she continued her own education and then career in higher education, but on a personal level, she developed a friendship with Dionne and his family that would span a half-century.
“Bob had an amazing ability to really lean in, to listen wholeheartedly,” Paxton said. “He was an engaging professor with an easygoing, positive energy that invited and encouraged people to connect with him. His loving, straight-forward, ‘can do’ spirit will live on in the generations of all whose hearts he touched.”
As a first-generation student himself, “Dr. Bob” had tremendous empathy for those who may not have had the support at home that they needed for achieving success in an unfamiliar environment. His encouragement for his students went beyond the classroom, and he often invited them to his and his wife’s home for dinners, summer barbecues, and a room in his guest house if they needed a place to live.
During his tenure, Dionne was instrumental in developing the inaugural major in health sciences. He also developed coursework he believed would benefit both the program as well as local community organizations, including courses in mental and emotional health and administration of mental health programs, as well as an “Interpersonal Communication and Assertiveness Training” he often co-taught with his wife, Jan. Additionally, he coordinated the development of a basic and advanced emergency care program for Chico State and participated in campus and community-wide disaster planning and trainings.
Dionne was committed to a “hands-on” approach to understanding the academic programs he was involved in and the ways they met the needs of the extended University community. Toward this end, he served as a member of Enloe Medical Center’s emergency room trauma team and as a board member and chairperson of the Butte County Behavioral Health Advisory Board, where he frequently placed students for their internships.
“Bob was all about teaching. He did the other things that were required and was a fully contributing member of the department and University, but his passion was for the classroom,” said professor emerita Mary Portis. “Bob was always willing to listen, truly liked the college-age students, and was always reading, attending workshops, and growing professionally.”
As a colleague, he was also a role model, leading by example with a practical, calm, and empathetic demeanor, Portis said.
“Many times stand out in my memories where a meeting was getting emotional and people were acting less than professionally, Bob would call for quiet and put the meeting back on track by setting some boundaries and allowing feelings to be aired,” she said.
After Dionne retired in 2003, he and Jan relocated to Samish Island in Washington, where he enjoyed remodeling projects and spending time with his family. A lifelong outdoorsman, he also continued hiking, skiing, and swimming, as well as kayaking with his daughters and grandchildren, crabbing in Samish Bay and taking trips to Mexico with a group of long-time friends. And, of course, he maintained his professional advocacy work, serving as an ombudsman for residents living in long-term care facilities and facilitating stress management and communication groups for healthcare workers and home health personnel.
He is survived by his wife, Jan; daughters Trynn Allen Dionne, Teresa Dionne Coney, and Trudi Dionne Reid; grandchildren Karli Allen Ross, Robert and Kyle Reid, Maddie and Audrey Coney; great-granddaughter Hazel Blake Ross, and numerous extended relatives and friends.
Plans for a celebration of life are pending and updates will be posted on forevermissed.com, where people can also share memories and condolences. Anyone who would like to honor his memory is encouraged to make a gift to the Samish Island Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, the American Red Cross, or The American Heart Association.
The University flag will be lowered in his memory Thursday, May 28.